It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul, Reflection on Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 24 sings of the entrance of the place of worship. Psalm 25 is the song of the worshiper.

Teach me what I need to know about you. Teach me what I need to know about what I am supposed to do. Forgive me for my failures.

Remember me not for what I have done, but according to what you are, according to your steadfast love.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 25:8-10

Friday, February 27, 2009

Do-Over, Reflection on Genesis 9:8-17

God had given them everything, and they had messed up. Noah and his family have been given a new start. In the verses preceding this week's lection, God has told Noah what is to be expected of human beings.

Now, God announced to Noah, "I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: No more floods to destroy the earth."

But not just those on the ark. God expands the promise to every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

As we travel through Lent, let us try to remember two things:
God's covenant is everlasting.
God's covenant is with all people on the earth.

The sign of the covenant is the rainbow. The New Interpreters' Study Bible reminds us that the Hebrew word is simply bow which in the rest of the Old Testament always refers to a weapon. "Thus the divine instrument of war and death, perhaps recalling the flood, is laid aside in the clouds and becomes the sign of the peach and life assured in the covenant."

As we travel through Lent, let us consider what weapon we need to lay aside.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 25:6-7

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Demons and Angels, Reflection on Mark 1:9-15

Why do we observe Lent? Remember, Jesus went to the wilderness because the Spirit drove him there.

What is the wilderness for us? In scripture it is a place of threat and a place where God's presence is manifest and a place where the hungry are fed and the thirsty are given water.

This gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent overlaps a little the lectionary reading for the Baptism of the Lord (January 11, this year) which was Mark 1:4-ll. To read that reflection, refer to A Voice from Heaven.

As earlier we focused on the baptism, this week we are reflecting on the tempting. In their Preaching the Gospel without Blaming the Jews, Ronald J. Allen & Clark M. Williamson, reminds us that even those of us who do not accept Satan as a personal being are faced with temptations. They suggest that we think about the forces in the world such as racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and addictions, that resist God's aim for us to experience love and justice.

During our forty days of Lent, we will be challenged by those demonic forces. And, in our wilderness, we also will be tended by angels. As Allen & Williamson put it,
On the one hand, this narrative assures the reader that, just as God sustained Jesus, so God continues to sustain the community when its witness brings it eyeball to eyeball with evil.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 25:4-5

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Offertory Prayers, March 2009

The UMC suggests Offertory Prayers for March.

Rend Your Hearts, Reflection on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

As we begin Lent, we read this message (warning?) from Joel: Sound the alarm. The day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom. (Read Joel 1:1-2:11).

Yet, even in the face of our deserved judgment, the Lord continues to beckon, "Return to me."

As Christians travel through Lent, let us heed Joel's reminder: Rend your hearts and not your clothing. What do we need to give up (or to take up) that is our way of fasting, weeping, and mourning?

Keep reading.

In verse 13, we see the familiar doxology of God's mercy (Exodus 34:5-7).

Again, Joel says, "Sound the alarm," and adds:
Sanctify a fast.
Call a solemn assembly.
Gather the whole congregation including the old people and the very young.

In verse 17, he reminds us that our lives demonstrate what we really believe about God. There's an old cliche' that your life is a sermon that you are preaching everyday. What if it is true?

On the UMC Worship, site, Daniel Benedict has suggested several excellent Lenten Practices. For example:
___Spend time in solitude each day.

___ Read a book for inner growth.

___ Read twice through the Gospel of the lectionary cycle you are in. (Mark in 2009).

___ Begin to keep a journal of prayer concerns, questions, reading.

___ Focus on thanksgiving, rather than on asking, in prayer.

___ Give myself a gift of three hours to do something you always say you don't have time to do.

___ Give up a grudge or a rehearsal of a past event.

___ Forgive someone who has hurt me.

___ Plan to visit a "shut-in" neighbor or church member weekly.

___ Write a letter of affirmation once a week to a person who has touched my life.

Go to his list to see other suggestions that may fit your life.

Lectio Divina: Joel 2:12-13.
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Evangelism Checklist, Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

As we read toward Ash Wednesday, we need to think about how Paul described the life of a Christian missionary. "Here's how we commended ourselves to you: great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger."

That is, servants of God will go through a lot as they reach out to people who are themselves going through a lot.

Then Paul offers a checklist that is still useful for us as we invite people into our Christian community: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech.

After reading Paul's description of evangelism, does your congregation have any repenting to do?

Lectio Divina: Psalm 51:1-4
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Corporate Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Among the planning helps for Ash Wednesday that the UMC worship site offers is this Ash Wednesday prayer written by Safiyah Fosua.

Treasures, Reflection on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Lent begins for Christians this Wednesday. The gospel lection we read on Ash Wednesday each year is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. Jesus is warning his followers against hypocrisy.

Give charity because someone needs help not to show off.
Remember that your prayers are directed to God, not to impress somebody.
Fast in secret rather than in public.

Notice that Jesus assumes that they are going to contribute to charitable causes, to pray often, and to fast.

What Jesus is cautioning them about is confusion of goals. You're doing the things that you ought to be doing, and remember why you are doing them. You will be rewarded, but not necessarily in an immediate, public way.

Lectio Divina:Psalm 51:15-17

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday School Lessons for March

The Mississippi Advocate includes Sunday School Lessons for March.

Let light shine out of darkness, Reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

The gospel reports of the transfiguration tell us that the disciples saw something very different from what they had been able to see before. I've always understood that to mean that the appearance of Jesus changed. As Mark says, "He was transfigured...and his clothes became dazzling white."

But, what about us? We've heard about Jesus. We know about the crucifixion and we know about the resurrection. Is transfiguration interesting only as an historical event that happened to some other people at some other time in some other place?

Paul was writing to the early church, the post-transfiguration, post-crucifixion, post-resurrection church: Those other apostles have been misleading you. They have thrown a veil over the true gospel. The light that has enabled us to see is the light that will enable you to see. That light comes in the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The light was there for the Corinthians, but they had allowed themselves to be blinded by the false apostles.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Summons, Reflection on Psalm 50:1-6

God comes to our attention in many ways. Sometimes, God appears in our lives in silence, as happened to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). And, sometimes, God appears with great drama, as in Psalm 50:
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.

Sometimes, God comes to comfort us. Sometimes, God comes to call us to action. And, sometimes, God comes to judge.
He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
"Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.

We're praying this psalm this week as we prepare for Transfiguration Sunday. Think about God as fire and judge as you remember how a chariot of fire and horses separated Elijah and Elisha as Elijah ascended. Think about what Peter and James and John witnessed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crossing the river, Reflection on 2 Kings 2:8-12

Think about an earlier crossing of the Jordan--Moses couldn't go, but Joshua led the people across.

Elisha is bereaved.

Think about Peter and James and John. In the gospel text this week, they have witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. They soon will face his death. They will be bereaved.

After the ascension, they will continue to lead their people.

Elisha asked for a double share of Elijah's spirit. Elijah reminded him that the Spirit is God's to share. Let us continue to pray for God's spirit to light on us as we face loss and challenge.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Difficulty Inherent in Transfer of Leadership, Reflection on 2 Kings 2:3-7

The other prophets tried to help Elisha. Elijah tried to help him. Yet, Elisha is still not ready to let Elijah go.

The way he puts it is to repeat, "I won't abandon you."

What really is his objection?

Even when he is told that the Lord has ordained this move, Elisha objects. He continues to delay the departure. They travel from Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan. Breuggemann points out that they are moving into the wilderness.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm Not Ready Yet, Reflection on 2 Kings 2:1-2

In this week as we read toward Transfiguration Sunday, we are contemplating what it's like to be the one who will assume responsibility for caring on the necessary task.

Elisha said, "I'm not ready to let you go. Stay here with me."

How hard is it for a disciple to move on and to let go?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Glory that the church shall share, Reflection on Mark 9:6-9

The three disciples have accompanied Jesus to the mountaintop. There, they witnessed something that terrified them.

Then a cloud overshadowed them. And from the cloud came a voice.

Off on a tangent: Look back at Exodus 19:16-20 that tells of the appearance of a thick cloud on a mountain and the voice of the Lord; also Exodus 24:12-18, Moses and Aaron go up the mountain, the glory of the Lord appears in the cloud, then Moses enters the cloud. Other references to the cloud as a symbol of the divine presence include Numbers 14:10; Ezekiel 1:4; Daniel 7:13-14; Mark 13:26; 14:2. (Thank you once more, Allen & Williamson, for your Preaching the Gospels.)

Another tangent: What Jesus has known is now told to these disciples: The voice tells them, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Compare this with what Mark tells us that the voice said at Jesus' baptism, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased " (1:11).

Sing (or, at least read) these two hymns about the Transfiguration: 258, "O Wondrous Sight! O Vision Fair" and 260, "Christ, upon the Mountain Peak," The United Methodist Hymnal.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Planning for Transfiguration Sunday

The UMC offers Music and Worship Suggestions for Transfiguration Sunday.


God of glory and mercy,
before his death in shame your Son went to the mountain top,
and you revealed his life in glory.

Where prophets witnessed to him, you proclaimed him your Son,
but he returned to die among us.

Help us face evil with courage,
knowing that all things, even death,
are subject to your transforming power.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(James F. White, The United Methodist Book of Worship, 319)

On the Mountaintop, Reflection on Mark 9:2-6

Peter, James, and John were helped in their understanding of who Jesus was by the events on the mountaintop. They witnessed a change in Jesus' body. They saw him clothed in white as was the Divine One described by Daniel (7:9). And they saw Moses and Elijah, great figures in the history of their people, both who had spoken the word of the Lord.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Winning the Race, Reflection on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul has said that he was willing to be under Jewish law to convince fellow Jews, and willing to be outside his own tradition for the Gentiles. He was willing to change a stance that was not requisite for a Christian life. But, he was not preaching no standards at all.

Being a Christian requires effort and discipline. Preaching the gospel (by word or deed) may turn out to be as strenuous as running a marathon. Do it anyway.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gratitude for Healing, Reflection on Psalm 30

"O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit."

We can pray this psalm of gratitude for the healing that God has provided us.

And not just healing from physical diseases. Sheol is that lowest of places, a separation from all friends, a separation even from God. We are in Sheol at those moments of greatest distress and isolation.

But, even in Sheol, we remember our Lord.

Here's Robert Alter's translation of verses 11-13 (A Translation with Commentary, The Book of Psalms):
Hear, Lord, and grant me grace.
Lord, become helper to me.
You have turned my dirge to a dance for me,
undone my sackcloth and bound me with joy.
O, let my heart hymn You and be not still,
Lord, my God, for all time I acclaim You.

Friday, February 13, 2009

He was made clean, Reflection on 2 Kings 5:13-14

One of my favorite authors is Walter Breuggemann. I not only buy his books; I also read them. Here's a portion of what he had to say about Naaman's acceptance of Elisha's odd medical prescription (Texts for Preaching, A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B):
The story ends in an act of submissive obedience of the commander to the plan of the prophet (v. 14). The commander acts "according to the word of the man of God" and engages in ritual washing, which is beneath his station. The result is the one he had hoped for but doubted possible! He is made whole! He is made clean! He is made ritually acceptable....The narrative stands as odd testimony that power for life is indeed offered and available. That power for life is not given in expected or even socially approved forms. It comes in primitive ways that live close to the gifts of the earth.Thus all the pretense of the Syrian leader with his entourage, his goods brought for gifts (for bribery or negotiation), turn out to be irrelevant.
Healing is an offer that is free, but only through the word and acts of this uncredentialed prophet.

Questions that arise:
Is there a modern-day analogy for "ritual washing"?
Does the place of the water matter, or would the healing have been just as effective if Elisha had sent him to some other river? That is, think about who really does the healing.
Do you agree with Bruggemann on the power of life coming from "primitive ways that live close to the gifts of the earth"?
Why did servants know what to do and a king did not?
What does it mean that two different servants were willing to give Naaman advice? What does it mean that he was willing to follow their advice?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Prescription, Reflection on 2 Kings 5:9-12

The prophet Elisha doesn't even bother to come out of his house to meet his powerful guest. Rather, he sends an emissary. "Go wash in the Jordan, and your flesh will be clean." Naaman reacts as if he has been told to go jump in the lake. He stalks off.

Why was he willing to listen to his servant but is insulted when Elisha sends a servant to convey instructions?

Is there any message in this passage that leads us to examine our own chauvinism?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Fearful King, A Willing Prophet, Reflection on 2 Kings 5:6-8

Naaman takes the letter and the gifts directly to the king of Israel. The king is nonplussed. And distrustful and fearful.

Why does the king of Israel react in this way?

Elisha, on the other hand, hears, understands, and acts.

Kings need a prophet.

Naaman, as powerful and successful as he had been, needed help. He was willing to listen to a captive girl, a servant. But, he and his king, thought that the person she had recommended, if he was as good as she said, must be working for the king of his country.

Who wouldn't think that? Where do we turn for help?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Contrasts, Reflection on 2 Kings 5:1-5

Consider the contrasts:
Aram (Syria), strong/Israel, weak
Naaman, army commander/nameless captive servant girl
Naaman's victory in war/Naaman's inability to heal himself
foreigner who knows something/important citizen who needs to know something

Naaman, in hopes that his servant knows what she is talking about, goes to his king for permission to make the trip to Israel. The king, being a king, assumes that all power in Israel resides in the king of Israel. Being a king, he thinks he knows what kings want; so, he sends a letter and a lot of expensive gifts.

Prayer Primer

For those of us who need help in forming our prayers, John D. Witvliet in the July 29, 2008, issue of Christian Century offers this helpful article, Collective Wisdom.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Another Healing, Reflection on Mark 1:40-45

The reading for Mark for the last two weeks have reported to us that Jesus had healed a man in the synagogue and Simon's mother-in-law in their home. Relatively private places--but the word has spread. Crowds gather. The next morning while it was still dark, Jesus went off by himself to pray. His disciples went to get him.

This week's reading relates another healing story. A leper approaches Jesus asking for help. The word has spread. Jesus tells him not to tell, but he does anyway.

Watch the pattern. Word spreads. Jesus retreats to a private place. People find him where he is.

Off on a another tangent: Jesus told the healed man to go to a priest as Moses had commanded. The original intent was to make sure that a contagious person would no longer infect the others. So, the inspection was to help the formerly ill person to be able to rejoin the community, and it was to make sure that a still-ill person did not endanger the community. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the temple was gone, and this Mosaic procedure could not be enforced. What replaced (replaces) it? How to we ensure that we welcome into our midst persons that we fear?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

All Things to All People, Reflection on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

The first missionaries were reaching out to people who had been raised like them and people who had not, people who were used to the same kind of worship, and people who were not. They faced the same set of decisions that missionaries continue to face--how much like us do they have to be and how much like them should I be willing to be?

Two preliminary conclusions I am drawing from this passage: 1) My own way of being does not have to be a general model for all humans to follow; and 2) I have to proclaim the gospel (See verse 16).

Some missionaries travel to foreign distant lands; some work within their own hometowns.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

From Debate to Testimony, Reflection on Isaiah 40:27-31

I've been reading John Goldingay's OT Theology, Israel's Faith again.

"Haven't you been paying attention?" Isaiah asks.

"Yes, you have gone through a lot. Yes, you're still not where you want to me," Isaiah says, in recognition of their pain.

Then he adds, "Yet."

Being the Creator means being the Lord.

And, I've been reading Allen & Williamson's Preaching the OT. Here's a great quote from them:
Isaiah does not promise that God will do everything for the people. God will empower them to cooperate with God as God's covenant people in bringing life and well-being to light.

God is not a tool that we may use to meet whatever needs we have.

God is the One whom we are to love with all our selves and on whom we may rely to do for us everything it is appropriate for God to do. But there are things appropriate for us to do, one of which is to find the courage to take Isaiah's words to hear.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Creator and Sustainer, Reflection on Isaiah 40:25-27

The words of Isaiah continue to challenge us:

"Do you think the stars control your destiny? Well, just remember who created the stars. And then take consolation that the one who creates is the one who continues to care."

Psalm 147 sings of the work that the Lord has done (2-3) and the work that will continue to be done (6).
Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious,
and a song of praise is fitting (1).

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power:
his understanding is beyond measure (5).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Have you not known? Reflection on Isaiah 40:21-24

Chapter 40 begins the portion of this book that Bible scholars call 2nd Isaiah. The original audience for this material was living in the time of the Babylonian exile.

We can imagine their plight. Many of us can remember our own plights--times of feeling lost or uncared for. The prophet reminds us that we are not solely at the mercy of whatever, whoever, stands for Babylon in our lives: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Come on, haven't you always known who always was in charge?

In their time, they were to be rescued from exile by the Persia army led by Cyrus. God saved them from unbelievers through the efforts of unbelievers. Nothing that unusual here. After all, Pharaoh let them leave their unpleasant jobs at pyramid building.

Babylon that seems so powerful to everyone who was alive did not seem like that big a deal to God. "Scarcely are they planted, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them like stubble."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Early evangelism, Reflection on Mark 1:35-39

His ministry had begun very successfully. What next? Build a bigger building so more people can come? Or, immediately go to a different community that has never heard of him?

Even though all the demons had not been stomped out in Capernaum, they went to Galilee.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another Story about Healing

The February 3 edition of the New York Times reports about a company that prospers by saving poor people's lives, Vestergaard-Frandsen.
Its products are in use in refugee camps and disaster areas all over the third world: PermaNet, a mosquito net impregnated with insecticide; ZeroFly, a tent tarp that kills flies; and the LifeStraw, a filter worn around the neck that makes filthy water safe to drink.

Health Initiatives, Reflection on Mark 1:29-34

Right after healing a man in the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples went to Simon and Andrew's house. As soon as he heard that Simon's mother-in-law was ill, he healed her, too.

I find interesting several things. One is we are given no indication that those needing healing asked Jesus to do so. Another is that we are not told that Simon's m-i-l had faith in Jesus' power to heal her. Also, interesting to me is her response. As soon as she is healed, she gets up and serves them a meal (my interpretation of "waited on them").

The word spreads. The whole town shows up including all who are ill or possessed.

Once again, Jesus won't let the demons speak because they know who he is.

Questions that linger: Do they have faith or knowledge in Jesus other than his ability to heal?

Application for our time:
The United Methodist Church has set legislative priorities that include health-care reform.

The health of people throughout the United States is jeopardized every day by limited or lack of access to health care, according to the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of the board’s work area on alcohol, other addictions and health care. She said 45.7 million people are uninsured in the United States, and increasing numbers are underinsured or have expensive and inadequate health care.

“Major health reform efforts are under way in Congress and with the new administration,” said Abrams. She added that it isn’t clear yet what the legislative package will look like.

“Faith groups have worked together to develop a solid foundation of principles to guide legislative efforts,” Abrams said, adding that the United Methodist position on health care has heavily influenced this process.

“A society where each person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity expresses God’s intention for abundant life,” she explained. “An inclusive, accessible, affordable and accountable health-care system lives out God’s intention.”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Prayer, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

The traditional date for the remembrance of the day that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple for purification on the fortieth day after his birth is February 2. The lectionary suggests these readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

The United Methodist Book of Worship (316, Don E. Saliers) offers this prayer:
God of compassion, on this day your Holy Spirit revealed
the salvation you had prepared for all peoples
to the devout Simeon and Anna,
who had waited until late in life.

Grant that we, too, may adore your Son, Jesus Christ,
a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel,
so we may proclaim him to all your world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Care for the poor

As Congress worked on an $800 billion-plus dollar stimulus package for the deteriorating economy, Faith Groups Urge Protection of Poor, Children in Economic Crisis.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Planning for Black History Month

The worship site of the UMC offers suggestions for Black History Month.

The Message of the Messenger, Reflection on Malachi 3:1-14

Christians read this passage in Malachi as a foretelling of the coming of Christ.

Consider the promises made about the messenger: The one you want is coming. But, who will be able to stand it? He will refine and purify the descendants of Levi (us, too?)

After the fire that refines and purifies, the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be as pleasing as it once was. (How does this promise relate to our situation? Should we translate the refinement as something that happens after death? Or, should we go ahead and repent immediately?)

Look at the specific wrongdoings mentioned: sorcery, adultery, swearing falsely, paying low wages, and deporting aliens.

Not tithing is robbing God. Do we agree? Do we act out agreement?